A single American mother of twins living in Israel was unable to obtain citizenship for her children because they were conceived via invitro fertilization (IVF) from donor eggs and sperm, making it impossible to determine if the children are indeed American.
USA Today is reporting on a case involving Chicago native Ellie Lavi, an American citizen who conceived via IVF and gave birth to twin girls in Tel Aviv. When she went to the U.S. embassy to apply for citizenship for her children, she was told they were not eligible unless she could prove that the egg or sperm used to create the embryo was from an American citizen. Because most IVF clinics keep this kind of information confidential, Lavi went home empty handed.
“I was humiliated and horrified,” Lavi said. “We’re talking about the children I gave birth to. Of course they’re my children.”
The incident highlights one of the many pitfalls associated with unnatural assisted reproductive techniques. The U.S. State Department requires that any child born outside the USA to an American cannot receive citizenship unless a biological link with at least one parent is established. That link does not exist if an infertile woman uses donor eggs at a clinic to conceive.
“The law exists for a very good reason: to avoid having people claim that other people’s kids are their own for purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship,” said Kristen Williamson, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
However, unusual circumstances such as these ” . . . might require special consideration … without wholesale abandonment of the law,” she said.
Marla Gatlin, founder of Parents Via Egg Donation in Portland, Ore., admits that not all parents tell the truth to overseas embassies with the hopes of avoiding the same problem Lavi encountered. They “often decide to either fly back to the U.S. to give birth, or they lie” to consular officials about how they conceived, she said.
The U.S. State Department says it is merely following proper interpretation of the law, but it is studying whether it can interpret the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow U.S. citizen parents “to transmit American citizenship to their children born abroad through artificial reproductive technology in a broader range of circumstances.”
Michele Koven Wolgel, an Israel-based lawyer who specializes in U.S. immigration law, told USA Today that embassy officials tend to ask only older women, especially single moms, about the method of birth. “That’s called profiling,” she says.
Most of the 200,000 U.S. citizens in Israel have dual citizenship, and fertility treatments are common there because they are free.
“There is an established process for U.S. parents who want to transfer citizenship to their adopted children, but no such avenue exists for parents whose children, conceived with someone else’s eggs or sperm, emerged from their wombs,” Wolgel said.
In the meantime, Lavi has given up on acquiring U.S. citizenship for her girls.
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